Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Heating, weather and SAD!

We have just finished work which started around three hours ago, when it became evident that we had neglected to turn on the central heating pump when I lit the oil stove, with the result that the header tank overflowed a litre or so of water and antifreeze mix over the floor, and the oil stove turned off (good to know, at least, that the failsafe device works!).  Mopping up the water was not too much of an issue, but now the stove will not work, perhaps because the safety cut-out has jammed!  It's just as well that we have gas-fired heating, too, but we will need to get the oil stove sorted, since it is our best, most efficient source of heat by far.  Ho hum!

A while back, I was bemoaning the lack of rain.  It's making up for it today! And the wind is back to its boat-shaking level of a couple of days ago.  The waves across the marina are actually foam-tipped, and walking has proven to be quite difficult.  It's good to be enclosed in the boat, feeling snug.

I have known for many years now that I suffer from Seasonal Adjustment Disorder, albeit fairly mildly.  For years I used to get up in the morning and move around in the dark in winter, simply because I found that putting the lights on was too much of a shock at 6:30am.  I felt really low, though, but simply put it down to an aversion to getting up that early.  It was some years before I even heard of SAD, and I then tried putting the lights on in the morning.  It worked!  After overcoming the initial shock of the brilliance, I found that I no longer felt so blue.  Problem solved.

Except now, in the boat, and in the very cloudy weather, I have found the SAD returning.  It can get very gloomy in the boat on dull days - more than in houses which have more window area, and are more spacious - but I have been not switching the lights on, simply because I can see OK, so I don't think of it.  Thinking about it, and turning the lights on improves my mood instantly.  Can you buy sun lamps still, I wonder. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The calm after the storm

Grace and I have just come back from a walk. It was nearing sunset.  The air was cool, the sky clear, and the air and the water both still.  The ground, however, was wet and muddy, with huge puddles across the footpaths and towpath.

Yesterday, we were hammered for most of the day by very strong winds, and frequent, squally showers. This came to a head after dark, when the boat was constantly subject to extreme wind, the like of which we'd never before encountered whilst on a boat.  The BBC Weather website suggested the winds were in the region of 16 mph, but this was far from the truth where we are, and the boat rocked and swayed, and bumped hard against the pier, despite our tight mooring.  It was really quite exciting!  When we went to bed after midnight, it was at its worst, but it did not stop us sleeping, strangely enough.  Lying in bed, the sound of the water breaking in waves against the hull was persistent, but oddly soothing, and we had a good night's sleep, despite the weather.

Of course, strong winds must be a feature of this part of the country, for there is talk of building a wind farm just a few miles from here, and the wind turbines at Crick are always turning at quite a speed.

We awoke to the tail end of the storm, and eventually it all died down and cleared to the calmer, brighter day we enjoyed on our walk.  Crazy weather!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Happy Christmas!

Yes, I know it's just a tad early, but I'd like to get you thinking about Christmas presents - and even if you are already, then thinking about giving a present to someone you don't know.
World Vision is a charity which does amazing work with needy people around the world, and they have a website where you could buy something of huge value to such people at little cost to yourself.

How much is a school dinner in the UK these days?  £20 could buy a school dinner for 45 children in the Sudan.  £18 could buy a kid goat which will provide milk to a family for years.  Just £6 will buy a mosquito net to stop a child from being infected with malaria while they sleep.

The list goes on. Will you please buy such a present, and make a huge difference to the life of someone who has needs far greater than ours?

Click here, if you will.  Thank you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sunset over the marina

Yes, I know some of them are a bit samey - I just couldn't leave any out. Indulge me, would you?

Friday, November 18, 2011

We've twinned our toilet!

Those familiar with canal boat cassette toilets will know they do not offer the best lavatorial experience available in the nation. Small, smelling of chemicals, and needing to be emptied every two to three days, they are a feature of canal life that one has to put up with.  However, we have been reminded recently that there are millions in our world today who would consider a loo as lowly as ours to be a luxury item.

Charities Cord and Tearfund have got together to create http://www.toilettwinning.org/, a charity whose sole purpose is to improve the sanitation of the 40% of the world's population who do not have access to adequate toilet facilities.  And they do it by encouraging people with decent toilets to "twin" theirs with one in a poor community elsewhere in the world.

To quote their website...

For £60, you can twin your toilet at home, work or school with a latrine in the remote Giharo Commune of Rutana Province, Burundi, or a village in Cambodia.
UK-based charities Cord and Tearfund have linked up to bring you Toilet Twinning, a unique way to help transform lives in poor communities across the world.
When you twin your toilet you’ll receive a framed certificate of your toilet's twin, containing a photo, the latrine's location and its GPS coordinates so you can look it up on Google Maps.
Tearfund and Cord will use the money raised to help provide access to better sanitation, clean water and hygiene education – helping people enjoy better health, go to school and work, and ultimately, begin to flush away poverty.
Since the launch of Toilet Twinning in 2009, more than 1,600 latrines have been built in Burundi,  providing safe loos for nearly 10,000 people! They have also received training on domestic hygiene and now have access to clean water.

Our framed twinning certificate now hangs proudly on the wall above our canal boat loo, and a sobering reminder that it is not as bad as one might first think! Come on - click here to twin your toilet, too!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cinema - almost forgotten what it is!

It seemed like ages since we last went to the cinema, so we drove out to Rugby this afternoon to share a very comfortable "screen" with just three others to watch "The Adventures of Tintin" in 3D.  It's great fun, a load of nonsense, and very funny in places - one of those films in which I have a smile on my face all the way through.  I managed to take the wrong turning out of the car park, but we followed Grace's nose and got home in less time than we spent on the outward journey - odd, that.  Then hot mulled wine and mince pies in front of the stove fire while dinner cooks slowly.  All very civilised!
Intrepid reporter Tintin and Captain Haddock set off on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock's ancestor.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ah - it's winter!

The weather today has been absolutely glorious.  Clear, blue skies, little breeze, warm sunshine. Almpst unbelievable for this time of year.  The local weather forecast said it was going to be a bit like this yesterday, but it was not.  Oh, it didn't rain, but it was not as warm as promised, and had little sun,

Which was a shame, because my good friend Michelle came for the day, and we thought we had chosen a day with better weather.  Nonetheless, we all had a good time. It was Michelle's first time on a canal boat, and she seemed to enjoy it, with lots of questions, and frequent comments about the peacefulness.  We set out towards Foxton Locks, moored for lunch on the way, went through Crick Tunnel... and then realised that, despite the time - around 4 o'clock, it was getting dark. We made maximum haste - 4 mph - for the nearest winding hole, turned and made our way back.  Grace observed that we might as well go back through the tunnel, since that was dark anyway! but we emerged from it less than twenty minutes later under a night sky, and we could not go any further.

The problem was, of course, that Michelle's car was back at the marina, about forty minutes' walk away, and she had a two-hour drive ahead of her, to get back home.  So, after fortifying ourselves with tea and cake, Michelle and I set off into the dark, leaving Grace to secure the boat.  I had a torch, so the towpath and footpath route back to Yelvertoft was easy enough.  The night was warm, the moon bright.  Having got back to her car, Michelle drove me back to the bridge nearest to where Kantara was, and left for home.  Grace and I spent the night there, just past the tunnel, and returned this morning.  Hey - we cruised! 6 miles!! Oh, and thanks very much for the superb brandy, Michelle!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Compromises and cautions

The first thing you have to get used to when living on a boat is... well, it may seem terribly obvious, but... it's not a house!  It puts restrictions upon those who live in it, and it means they have to accept a number of compromises, and exercise certain cautions, which are totally unnecessary on land.
The first restriction noticed by most is that of storage space.  Now, we're fortunate in this, for Kantara has considerably more cupboards, shelves, lockers and cabinets than most of the boats we've ever seen - and we've been on lots! After ten weeks on board, we still have cupboards and drawers which are virtually empty.  No real compromises needed here for us - yet!
The second, and one which does affect us, is water, hot and cold.  Cold water is stored in a 180 gallon tank under the foredeck.  There is a 12 gallon hot water tank under the bed.  The water may be heated by the running engine, in a gas boiler, by an oil stove, or by immersion heater.  The latter needs 240v, so it can only be used from a shoreline (a cable plugged into a 13 amp socket next to the boat while she is moored in the marina). On the cut, it would have to be powered by the alternator on the engine - one fitted especially for running heavy load domestic appliances.  Water filling points are provided by British Waterways at sensible intervals around the entire inland waterways system, but boaters need to remember to keep their eyes on the tank level, and to stop at appropriate moments to fill up.  The job takes less than half an hour every five days or so for the two of us... a smallish compromise.
Thirdly, electricity.  I've said a lot about batteries, so I'll say little here, except that these are our only source of electricity while we are cruising, unless we have our engine running.  So, lights have to be switched off when not in use... and so on.  Not too big a deal so far, but being out on the cut full-time may prove different.
Finally, the toilet!  Kantara, like probably the majority of canal boats, has a cassette toilet which needs to be emptied every two or three days when it's just the two of us here.  Emptying points are usually to be found near the water taps, but timing your need to empty the cassette with your arrival at a sanitation point is very unlikely, so a spare cassette is needed.  So the toilet, too, has to be monitored and acted upon as appropriate.
There is also the matter of diesel, both for the engine and for the domestic stove, but since these have 55 and 21 gallon tanks respectively, it would be extremely careless to run either of these dry!

Of course, these compromises are all acceptable in return for the pleasure of being on the canals, of living in a boat, and we have found already that they have become part of our lives, and we don't think too much about them any more.  It's not everyone's idea of a good life... but it is ours!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I'm walking every day still - well, almost every day.  Sometimes alone, sometimes with Grace.  And when we're together, it's pleasant to stop for lunch at a pub or restaurant at the half-way mark.  We stopped at "The Moorings" in Crick the other day.  It's right next to ABNB at Crick Wharf, where we bought Kantara, and we'd already been in a couple of times.  But whereas before we had dined in a quite acceptable pub-style room, this time we were taken upstairs to a very well-appointed restaurant room, and enjoyed an excellent roast lamb dish, followed by ginger sponge and ice-cream.  The walk home afterwards was a little slower than the outward stride!

I walked on my own another day to Clay Coton, a few miles along the road from Yelvertoft.  It has an unusual old church, and I thought I might go in and look, as we often at churches when out walking. I passed through the gate and down the footpath, with gravestones dominating the land on both sides, and came to the porch.  The expected heavy wooden door stood in front of me, so I turned the ancient handle, opened the door, and stepped inside.  All was not quite right.  There were no pews.  There was a raised floor almost the entire length and breadth of the knave, with various furniture scattered sparsely over it.  A radio was playing loudly, the voice of a woman being interviewed on the telephone.  And, to my left, again several feet above ground level, was a glass wall, behind which sat a man at a desk, at a computer, and wearing large headphones.  A radio studio? I wondered.  Not wishing to disturb, I hurried out quietly, only to be stopped a few seconds later by said man, still wearing headphones and looking quite annoyed. There was a stern, "What do you want?", and I explained that I had thought that this was a church, a public building, and that I might wander around inside.  This was met by a very curt, "This is a private home", and I could not resist pointing out to him that there was no getting away from the fact that it looked so much like a church it just had to be one, and that there was no sign to say that it was anything else.  He was unimpressed by my logic, and went inside, slamming the door behind him.  People, eh?  I just hoped he wasn't the vicar.

This phenomenon is explained in just two lines in Wikipedia, which describe sombrely the decline of the village... "The village is dominated by the mediaeval former church of St. Andrews. Built in 1340, it fell into disuse in the 1950s and was renovated as a private house in 2000. However the surrounding graveyard still has public access.  Until 2002, despite the small size of the village, it included a pub, called the 'Fox and Hounds'; it was later renamed the 'Fox'. The Fox was renowned for its folk music nights and cask ales.  Like the church, it has now been converted to a private house."

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Suddenly, life's gone quiet!

Sadly, there's little to write about at the moment. The weather is colder, grey and drizzly, and we really are not tempted to go anywhere in the boat until it improves.  Visits from friends are postponed until that time - should it come before the end of the month.  So our days are slow and lazy, though we have bursts of busyness doing jobs around the boat - washing it, waxing, polishing, fixing things, and I even got right down into the engine compartment for the first time yesterday, to check the fluid levels in the batteries, and generally look around.  The bilges are totally dry, which is good.  The batteries... well, I think the fluid levels are all right, but I was only able to check half of the cells of the three domestic batteries because of the stupid lack of headroom above them.  We drove into Rugby this afternoon, to try to find a few bits and pieces which would make that and other jobs a bit easier next time, but came back with just a box of toothpicks, a small tin of Vaseline jelly, and a disposable boiler suit - and only the latter was for working on the boat!

We've been having concerns about the batteries again.  We've had two lots of conflicting advice about how to use them.  One school of thought says keep them on trickle charge all of the time while we're using a shoreline, to keep the state of charge high.  The other says let them run low before recharging them, and this is the practice we've adopted.  It made sense, because this is surely how things would be when we are cruising, and have no mains electricity supply to rely on when we are moored.  We run the engine for five, six, maybe more hours during the day, charging the batteries from the alternator on the engine.  When we are moored and the engine is off, the use of lights, water pump, and inverter to power our computers will start to drain the batteries.  In the morning, the process will start again.

Sadly, this turns out to have been the wrong thing to do, though, and I have noticed that the battery voltage has fallen too quickly after each charging.  A quick plea for help in the Canal World Discussion Forums brought a good number of replies saying, "You're ruining your batteries".  Sigh.  So for the rest of the day I've had the charger on all of the time, and I do detect an improvement in the state of charge now, at 10:30pm.  Let's hope that daily treatment like this will restore the health of the batteries - I'm told it is possible.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Guy Fawkes Night...

...was a quiet affair here at the marina.  The site is adjacent to a farm with animals, so fireworks were out of the question, so a token huge bonfire was lit on the hillside overlooking the water.  It was a still, mild night, and quite beautiful.

Friday, November 04, 2011


I know that most people don't get very enthused by rain, but the sound of a downpour on the roof of the boat yesterday evening and throughout the night brought a smile to our faces.  Waking up this morning, we saw the marina pound back to the level at which it had been last week.  Whether this is entirely down to the rain, or if Watford Locks did some back-pumping as well, I don't know, but it is a welcome sight!  And more on its way, too!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Weather or not

It's really a bit of a pain, is rain.  (I feel a poem coming on!)  Despite forecasts earlier this week suggesting tomorrow was going to be dry, with little wind, today's forecast says quite emphatically that it will rain heavily.  This is sad, because it might have been the day Michelle visited, and she was looking forward to some dry cruising.  But on the other hand, the rain is most welcome.

I've not looked into the situation around the whole canal network yet, but in our parts, the water levels are very low.  Watford Locks have stopped back pumping the water from the bottom of the flight, so consequently water is lost from the stretch of the canal at the top of the locks - where we are - each time boats use them, and our water level drops.  I heard in the marina office yesterday that the three reservoirs which supply the Grand Union around this area are all very low.  It seems we need heavy rain throughout the winter if boats are going to have enough water to float on.  I finished today's hour's walk just moments before a cloudburst, but it did not continue for very long.  The question occurs to us now, will be get stranded here over the winter?

Crack's Hill from the towpath
Skeletal trees

Who are you?

A web service called StatCounter is monitoring visitors to this blog, and tells me that we have just had our 500th visit since September.  Now, that's not a huge number in two months, and nothing like as many visits per week as my teaching blog "Grumpy Old Teacher" which I stopped doing last year, but numbers aren't what the blog is about anyway.  The most interesting thing about the stats which StatCounter gives me is the locations of readers.

We have a reader in Australia, so that is bound to be my cousin Sheila or one of her immediate family.  There's one in New Zealand, and that must be our old friend Jenny.  The oddest thing is the seven readers in the States, all of whom came to the blog direct, rather than by stumbling across us in a Google search or similar.

The biggest mystery of all, though, is our UK readers, because I know that most of you must be family or friends, but really have a problem knowing who you all are.  So would you do me a favour, please?  Would you just go to the bottom of this post, and add a comment, saying who you are, and where you're from?

To give you a clue, these are the towns which show up in Statcounter against readers - not necessarily the town they live in, but a nearby one, where their Internet connection is registered.  Which of these towns is you?


London (on PlusNet)
Milton Keynes (on TalkTalk) - is that you, Mr Doody?
St Albans (on BeUnLimited)
London (on Exponential-e)
Hemel Hempstead

I have lots of relatives out there, most of whom I've never met - cousins once removed and their offspring in particular - and more than a few friends.  It would be really good to know who you all are.  Would you take a moment to do that for me, please?  Oh, and if your town's not in my list, say hi anyway, please, give me a name and where you're from!

And who are you folks in the US?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Weight a minute!

In the first two or three weeks we spent on Kantara, I lost four or five pounds.  I don't know why.  I was well, eating as normal, just doing different things.  I was pleased about that!  I could happily lose a few pounds.  But recently, I regained those pounds and added a few more to them besides, so now I am the heaviest I have ever been... by a small margin.

Of course, this is down to the fact that, as a teacher, I was used to doing a lot of walking around the campus, hurrying up and down stairs, standing up throughout lessons, and moving around the classroom constantly.  In the boat, there is little walking to be done, and no stairs. We are eating healthily enough, possibly better than we did when in St Albans, but I have really missed the exercise.

Cruising is another issue.  On the cut, I will often be walking ahead of the boat to get to the next lock - it's common for locks to be in groups spread out over a mile or so, so it happens often that I stay off the boat until we have left the last lock.  And then there is the locking.  Opening and closing the paddles at a lock, and opening and closing the gates, takes a lot of energy, not just keeping my weight down, but also building muscle in arms, back, abdomen and legs.  After just one typical week, I really notice the difference.

Victorian Reading Room
Yelvertoft High Street!

Thatched cottage on High Street
But I have done little of that this past couple of months, so I have been rather too sedentary, and I have to do something about it.  So today, I started on my plan to walk every day for at least an hour.  I did a very brisk four to five miles, and returned to the boat feeing the better for it.  I shall do this every day, building up my time and mileage gradually until I am really benefitting from it.  And I join Grace's brother-in-law Mike in my determination to lose significant pounds before Christmas.

Victorian pub